If you’ve come even within sniffing distance of a health food shop, you may have noticed açaì. It’s everywhere, from bowls and smoothies, to juices and even ice cream. But what does it do, exactly? And how do you even pronounce “acai"?
Açaì (pronounced “ah-sigh-eeh”) berries have exploded in popularity in recent years, and are widely touted as a powerful addition to the superfood family. It’s easy to see why: each luscious purple berry is bursting with antioxidants, vitamins, and fibre, which all work to boost skin, brain, and heart health.
The one-inch round berries, which taste like a cross between blackberries and unsweetened chocolate, grow on acai palm trees native to the rainforests of Central and South America. Acai’s nutritional value has made these berries important to the indigenous tribes there, sometimes making up more than 25% of their food intake.
While acai comes in different colours like white and red, it’s the purple ones that have gotten the most recognition and for good reason: anthocyanins, the compound that gives acai its beautiful deep purple colour, is also a powerful antioxidant that helps to prevent cardiovascular illnesses and diseases like cancer and diabetes.
And that’s not all: according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, acai’s high levels of plant sterols can relax blood vessels to reduce blood pressure, preventing clots that could lead to strokes and heart attacks.
So what’s the catch?
As amazing as this berry is, it suffers from one drawback: it’s bitter. This forces many shops to add sugar, sweetened soy or almond milk, or fruit juices into their products to make it more palatable. While this sounds like a healthy snack, it can cause the sugar levels to stack up.
An averaged-sized bowl can have anywhere from 21-62g of sugar per serving, whereas the Health Organisation recommends roughly 45g of sugar for a 1,800kcal diet to reduce the risks of obesity and tooth decay, alongside other health risks that come from consuming too much sugar.
The good news is that we have some useful tips on maximising the benefits of acai without overloading on sugar!
Opt for veggies or nuts in your acai bowl
In shops where you get to build your own bowl, avoid sweet toppings and try to limit your fruit choices - including acai - to just one cup, with the rest of the bowl consisting of vegetables like zucchini, or nuts for an extra nutrient zing.
Watch your portions
If your acai serving for the day comes in a smoothie, note that its blended form means less fibre in your cup! Cutting out the fibre means you may feel the need to consume more in order to feel full - but this could lead to a tonne of extra calories and sugar. Keep an eye on portion sizes, and if necessary, fill up on a fibre-rich side that will do the job without adding sugar into your meal.
Make it yourself
When in doubt, do your own acai-based meal preps! You can purchase acai in puree (check for added sugars first) or powder form: adding some pumpkin to it will add a burst of sweetness and fibre, or you can always opt for your favourite jar of honey to balance out the bitter notes.
This incredible source of antioxidants definitely deserves its rockstar status - just remain mindful of the other ingredients that go with it, and enjoy!